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Billy King


Nonviolence News



October 2006

[Go back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).

Potatoes, Potatoes

The selection here is chosen and introduced by Roberta Bacic:

Dear friends:

It is always an interesting challenge to find a new angle or story to feed our section on readings on nonviolence This month, I wanted it to be something that related directly to Northern Ireland where religion has been so significant in the conflict that here is commonly called 'troubles' and want to share stories that show how violence can be responded/confronted/challenged by nonviolence. We had picked our own potatoes in the garden of Benone just a few days ago, and it is in this context that my memory brought me back to the book POTATOES, POTATOES by Anita Lobel. It was given to me as a gift in October 1998, at the time my 5-year-old granddaughter Eva was coming to London, soon after my arrival to War Resisters' International. Myrtle Salomon who had been the organisation's secretary for many years left it as part of her legacy and was to be used with children.

Why is it significant and relevant if we are against wars? Just read the author's short biography that you can also find in together with other information.

Anita Lobel was born in Kraców, Poland just before World War II. In the proper Jewish household in which she lived, there was a nanny for the children. It was this strong-willed Catholic peasant who saved the lives of Anita and her brother during the war, passing them off as her own children.

They spent five years on the run from one town to another until the Nazis discovered them on Christmas Day hiding out in a convent. Anita and her brother moved through Monelupi Prison, Plaszów, and Auschwitz, ending up in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Somehow, they survived until liberation and were brought to Sweden.
Eventually, Anita's parents were located and they were reunited in Stockholm. There, Anita went to high school and began taking art lessons. When the family emigrated to New York, Anita won a scholarship to the Pratt Institute where she met and married Arnold Lobel.

Anita's interests in theatre and music and foreign languages have served her well in her work both as an author and an illustrator. She has been an actress and a singer. "It is the 'drama' in a picture-book that interests me most," she has said. "I stage the story the way a director might work on a theatre piece."

POTATOES, POTATOES was first published in 1969 in Great Britain by World's Work Ltd, the Press at Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey (currently out of print).

The story makes special sense if you read it together with looking at her wonderful illustrations. You can have a gist by looking at the cover of the book that we include in our section. To introduce you to the story, here is the first part of the text on its own:

Long ago there were two countries,
one in the East, the other in the West.
One day they started a war with each other.
No one had time to take care of the fields
or the cows or the chickens.
And between battles the people spent all their time
polishing swords, making cannonballs,
and sewing buttons on soldiers' uniforms.

In a valley between these two countries
lived a woman who did not bother with the war.
She had two sons.
She had a cow, some chickens,
and a large potato field.
To protect her potatoes and her boys from the war,
she built a wall around everything she owned.

The boys loved their mother.
They helped to plant, to weed,
and harvest the potatoes.
They took care of the animals.
They liked their soft beds
and their cosy house.
"But why must we have a wall around us?"
they sometimes asked.
"Because the potatoes will not grow
if the winds from the East and the West
blow on them,"
their mother would answer.

On cold winter nights when the storms and battles raged outside,
they baked potatoes in the fire and ate them.

But the two sons grew up.
One day the older son looked towards the East and saw a regiment of soldiers marching by.
"Mother, look at the red uniforms and beautiful swords," he cried, dropping his potato sack.
"I have seen red uniforms tattered and muddy, and swords bent and broken," his mother answered.
"Please, don't bother me and go back to your work!
We'll have boiled potatoes with sour cream for dinner."
"I am tired of planting potatoes," cried her son.
"Good bye Mother,"
And he ran off towards the East.

The next day the younger son looked towards the West
and saw a regiment of soldiers marching by.
"Mother, look at the blue uniforms and the shiny medals,"
he cried, dropping his spade.
"I have seen blue uniforms torn and stained with blood,
and medals rusting in the fields.
Do your work now," pleaded his mother.
I'll make you some potato pancakes later."
"I am tired of weeding potatoes," said her son.
"Good bye, Mother."
And he ran off towards the West.
Left all alone, the woman cried bitterly.
Then she bolted her door
and went back to the potato field.

The two sons liked being soldiers.
Their uniforms were new.
Their swords and medals gleamed.
Ladies threw flowers as they marched by.
One son became a general
in the army of the East,
and the other a commander
in the army of the West.

Many battles were fought.
But sometimes after a battle
the general looked
at his muddied uniform
and bent sword,
and thought of a baked potato
and a soft bed.

And sometimes the commander
looked at his stained uniform
and rusting medals,
and thought of potato-planting
and a warm fire.
They both thought of their mother
and felt sad.

Still more battles were fought.
The fields were empty and burned.
There was nothing left to eat in the East or the West.

"We are hungry," cried all the soldiers
in the army of the East.
Their general knew a place
where there was food.

"We want food," demanded all the soldiers
in the army of the West.
Their commander knew a place
Where there were things to eat.

One night the two armies marched towards the valley
where the woman and the potatoes were . . . . . . "

Can you complete the story yourself? What happens next? What happens to the mother? The sons? The potato field? Can the mother stop the war?

You are invited to send in your answers, ideas and thoughts. We would also welcome you let us know which are the issues about war that are raised in this story and ideas on what we as anti war people could do to tackle them.

If anybody would like to get hold of the book to read it and be able to see the wonderful pictures, get in contact with INNATE and we shall organise for the loan of the book.


Copyright INNATE 2016